Keffer caught her arm and yanked her off the bed, pushing her against the wall. “Enough, Ileana. You’re killing him.”
She started to protest, and his hand touched her breast. A wave of sensation flooded through her, driving all else from her mind. Ileana staggered when it stopped, catching and holding Keffer for support. It took her several tries to catch her breath. “My father was not a traitor.”
“I am well aware of who and what your father was, Ileana.” Keffer pulled her into a hug, holding her tightly.
“He was lying.” She clung to him.
“He told the truth as he saw it, precious heart.”
“Is it his fault he was deceived?” Keffer looked down at her.
“That doesn’t excuse that he lied to me then.” She glared.
“No.” Keffer nodded. “It does not. You were his wife, and should have been his first loyalty. He broke the laws of sacred hospitality. You are not wrong to be angry.” He tilted her head up. “But some of your anger is misdirected. Tell me, precious heart, is it the knife or the one who wields it that holds responsibility for the cut?”
“Why would they…” She shook her head, and let Keffer guide her to a chair. “Why would anyone seek to hurt my father?”
“Greed for his lands.” Keffer shrugged. “And sheer ignorance. How few among the mortal realm would believe such as I still exist? Your family has performed its sacred duty well these past centuries.”
“And now it’s his family holding the castle.” Ileana sighed. “Nicolas.”
“The man who tried to save your sister.” Keffer raised an eyebrow.
“I…” She sighed. “I need to think.”
“Take your time, precious heart.” Keffer rose, then bent and picked up Thomas, slinging the unconscious man over his shoulder.
“Where are you…” Ileana frowned.
“Forgive me, dear one, but I do not think it is in his best interest to be within your line of sight.” Keffer shrugged. “I will return him to you when your rage no longer controls you.”
Ileana sighed, then nodded. She took a deep breath, and then rose and began to pace.
Something warm lay on his chest, and there was a gentle swaying sensation. A slow, rocking comfort. He reached up a hand to pet the creature laying atop him, and felt it begin to purr in response. Slowly, Thomas opened his eyes.
Four golden eyes stared back at him. He yelped, tried to sit up, then hit the ground as the hammock he was in twisted to dump him out. The feline creature leaped up onto a nearby desk and started hissing at him. And from somewhere on the other side of the room he heard a deep voice chuckle. “Out of curiosity, have you ever once woken with your dignity intact?”
He whirled around to see the satyr lounging in a chair, then looked around the chamber he was in. Shelves lined the walls, containing a wide variety of objects. There was a small fire pit in the center of the room, giving off a warm, comfortable glow. On the other side of the fire pit was a soft looking bed piled high with furs. The room was large, but managed to maintain a cozy, homey feel. “Where am I?”
“Given our dear Ileana’s current mood, I thought it best you be out of her way for a time.” The satyr rose. “Thus, you are currently a guest in my home.” He picked up a cup. “Tea?”
Thomas blinked. He looked at the feline, who had apparently decided to simply ignore him and was now grooming itself, then shook his head and looked back at the satyr. “You’re offering me tea?”
“You are a guest. In my home.” The satyr shrugged, and set the cup down again. Then he walked to a drawer and opened it. A moment later, a pile of cloth was flung in his direction. He caught it. “I apologize for not having actual pants.” The satyr gestured at its fur covered legs. “Never wear the things myself.”
It took Thomas a moment to realize he’d been tossed a kilt, similar to the one the satyr was wearing. Almost frantically he started trying to figure out how to get the thing around him. After two tries, he heard the satyr give a frustrated noise. “Hold still.” It crossed the room to him and began fastening the kilt. Thomas swallowed, but let the thing dress him. “There.”
“Thank you.” He took a deep breath.
“Tea?” The satyr raised an eyebrow at him again.
“I, uh…” Thomas swallowed. He wasn’t sure if refusal or acceptance held greater danger.
“Thomas…” The satyr looked up at him. “You are my guest. In my home. As long as that remains true, you are completely safe within these walls. I will not harm you. I will not allow you to come to harm. I will ensure you are comfortable and that your needs are met. All that is expected in return is that you respect my home and its occupants.” It gestured at the cup. “Tea?”
“Yes. Please.” Thomas nodded. He watched the thing warily as it began preparing the tea. Slowly his hand crept up to his throat. The collar was still there. He wanted to ask about Ileana, but wasn’t sure he dared.
“I…” He blinked. “Yes. How long was I…” He glanced at the hammock.
“A few hours. Our Ileana has something of a temper, as you may have noticed. Provoking it is not an entirely healthy thing to do.” The satyr set a plate on the table, and began adding items to it. “I apologize for the hammock, but I did not believe you would be comfortable waking in my bed.”
“No.” He shook his head before catching himself. “I…” He swallowed. “It’s, uh…” He had absolutely no idea what to say to the thing.
The satyr laughed again, a surprisingly warm sound. “Sit, Thomas. Make yourself at home.” When Thomas didn’t move, the satyr shrugged. “May I ask you a question, Thomas?”
“I, uh…” Thomas frowned. “Yes?”
“Would you be ashamed to losing a tilt to a Dragonknight?”
“Of course not.” He started shaking his head. “A Dragonknight is —”
“Then why, pray tell me…” The satyr gave him an amused look. “Are you ashamed of losing to a satyr in the bedchamber?” When he just stared, it laughed again. “You are not the first mortal man I have studied. There is nothing wrong with you that I could bring you to pleasure.” It smirked. “Indeed, I would say there is much wrong with you if I could not.”
“I hate you.” Thomas glared.
“Most men do.” The satyr nodded agreeably. “Eat. You are my guest for now, which means I will not touch you.” It shrugged, then waggled its eyebrows. “Unless of course, you ask nicely.”
Thomas made a growling sound before going to sit at the table.
“Still say eat him.” Vula rested her chin on her fist.
“You only say that because you want to eat him and you’re hoping I’ll share.” Ileana gave the goblin a tired look.
“Nobles are always tender.” Vula nodded. “Eat good, so taste good.”
“That’s not helpful.” Ileana sighed. She glanced at the smoke rising from Keffer’s hut. If Thomas was telling the truth, then he did deserve at least some of her wrath. Someone, however, had set her father up. Why would Val attack Ardal? He knew what Ardal was, how skilled, and Val was no warrior. Ardal had to have started the fight somehow.
What Thomas said had the unfortunate ring of truth. If nothing else, he believed what he had said. Which meant she was right back where she started. Her eyes turned east. If anyone did know the actual truth, it would be Nicolas. And Nicolas was in her father’s castle. Giving Nicolas reason to cooperate would be easy enough, as he was fond of his youngest brother. “He’s likely worried sick, combing the forest.”
“Big brother hunting little brother.” Vula nodded. “Big brother track you?”
“Nicolas has no reason to think I am still alive, and neither girl remembers what happened in the woods.” Ileana shook her head. “All Nicolas knows is that the girls and his brother wandered from the road, and only the girls returned. The woods are a dangerous place.”
“Big brother will want little brother back.” Vula frowned. “And big brother has many swords.”
“All of which he needs at the castle. The people were loyal to my father. They won’t stomach one of his murderers ruling over them.” Ileana shook her head. “Someone set my father up.”
“That is one need be eaten.”
“When we find him.” Ileana nodded.
Thomas petted the strange four-eyed feline creature. He’d been a ‘guest’ of the satyr’s for two days now. The satyr had been true enough to it’s word. It hadn’t bothered him. In fact, it had rarely even been present. He wasn’t fool enough to think the creature would protect him from Ileana. His fingers went to the collar around his neck. Frankly, he wasn’t sure the satyr could even if it was willing.
At least it was two days of not being left hanging from a tree. Just two days of not knowing what his fate, or the fate of his family, was going to be. Frankly, he was starting to think the tree would be preferable. The feline arched it’s back, purring loudly. “I think she likes you.”
He turned at the sound of the satyr’s voice, then looked back at the feline in this lap. “What’s her name?”
“I call her Tula. She occasionally deigns to respond to the name.” The satyr waved a hand. “Ileana has stated you are to join us for the evening meal. Come along.”
“Then she…” He took a deep breath. “She’s made up her mind, then?”
“I presume so.” The satyr shrugged. “You’ll need to leave the kilt here. She prefers you in your natural state.”
“Humiliated.” Thomas sighed, and nodded.
“Naturally.” The satyr shook its head. “She is not a forgiving sort, and you, damn fool that you are, broke her heart. She really did love you, once.”
His head came up, startled. “She did?”
The satyr blinked. “Oh, oh you poor stupid jackass.” It stared at him. “You’re still in love with her.”
“I…” Thomas started shaking his head. “The woman has tortured me.”
“True, but there are people who would pay good coin to be in your shoes. Or lack thereof.” The satyr smirked. “Cheer up. On the bright side, she is not going to let you go anytime soon.”
“How is that a bright side?” Thomas sighed, and started stripping off the kilt.
Ileana narrowed her eyes when she saw him following Keffer. Vula sat at her right, and she’d kept the table small that evening. Three place settings. Keffer took the remaining chair, leaving Thomas standing, his face slightly confused. The golden collar shimmered around his throat. She gestured at the sideboard, where the food had been placed. “I would like to start with the soup.”
It took him a moment to react, then he nodded and began serving the soup. Vula drank hers eagerly and demanded more before she and Keffer were a third done with their own. He poured the wine silently.
She didn’t address him again until he’d served the desserts. “I intend to investigate the truth of your claims. If, as you have said, the majority of your family is innocent, I will spare them.”
“Thank you.” His voice was quiet.
“Unless, of course, they choose to oppose me when I reclaim my father’s lands.” She lifted her head. “And I will learn who it was that set my father up. If it is the king that chose to bring my father down, then it will be him that pays.”
“The realm will…” He winced as the collar tightened.
“War is already brewing. Your father, by the order of the king, broke a covenant that has kept the realm of humanity safe for a thousand years. The shield only stands if one of my blood holds my father’s castle. If I do not reclaim it soon, the shield will crumble beyond repair, and the fey will reclaim what was once theirs. All humans will be as you are now.” Her eyes narrowed. “Slaves.”
He lowered his eyes, and nodded. She stared at him until he looked up at her again. “There is guilt already established. Ardal raped and murdered my sister. He, your father, Nicolas, and yourself broke the bonds of sacred hospitality. And you, dear husband, betrayed me.” She shook her head. “Ardal will die for what he did.”
Thomas closed his eyes, then reopened them before nodding to her. “I understand.”
“As for your own fate, I will still require an heir. You will provide me with one.” She shrugged. “And in return for your absolute obedience and submission, I will limit my remaining vengeance to you alone. Provided your father and Nicolas are culpable of no more than the crimes as you have stated them.”
“I accept that I am your slave, and you will spare them?” Thomas raised an eyebrow at her.
“Not merely my slave, Thomas. Everyone I cared about died that night.” Her eyes narrowed. “Their suffering, the pain I felt at their deaths, their…” Her fists clenched. “I can spread that punishment through your entire family, or you can be its sole target.”
“But they, their families…” He met her eyes. “They will be spared?”
“Then do with me as you will.” He bowed.
“You will submit to whatever I wish of you?” She leaned back in her chair. “Understanding that if you break your word to me, I must assume that you were lying in the story you told earlier.”
Despite his words, he flinched a little when Keffer stood. The satyr caught him by the hair, then shoved him to his knees. Ileana smiled. “Then prove it. Service Keffer.”
His eyes widened, and revulsion was clear on his face when he realized what it was she was ordering him to do. Her smile widened when he turned toward Keffer. He had to take several deep breaths before closing his eyes and taking Keffer into his mouth. Vula giggled a little the first time Thomas choked. Part of her wanted to order Thomas to open his eyes again, to make him watch what he was doing. There would be time for that later.
Keffer caught his hair and held him in place when the satyr finally gave a small shudder. Thomas started gagging, but Keffer didn’t release him until he finally swallowed. He collapsed to sit on the ground when Keffer let go of his hair and walked away. Only a couple tears had escaped him that time, and he wiped them away with a violent motion of his hand.
Ileana scraped the remains of the other plates onto hers, then set it on the ground. “Come get the rest of your dinner.”